Call Rant: The Oral Biography of Buster Casey Chuck Palahniuk’s sci-fi epidemic kind-of but not really zombie novel about folklore and the creation of mythical figures. No, really. That’s the best line I can come up with to explain what, exactly, Rant is supposed to be. People are interviewed about Buster “Rant” Casey, a ne’re-do-well country boy who packs up his things at 18 (including millions in stolen gold coins) and brings a small town epidemic to the big city. Or, it’s the novel about how people team up at night to do demolition derby, called “party crashing,” to either get an adrenaline rush, overthrow the government, or many other bizarre sci-fi tropes tossed into a word salad of a novel.
And I liked it, nonsensical storytelling and all.
Rant is probably Chuck Palahniuk’s strangest novel, which is really saying something. He’s also written books about anarchist fight clubs, a lullaby that can kill you instantly, and a writer’s retreat turned to disastrous because reasons. His other novels, no matter how bizarre the subject matter, have a clear narrative cohesion by the end; Rant does not by design.
When dealing with the creation of a mythic figure, everything is going to be larger than life. The novel opens and closes with the same kind of warning from all the major players. Was Rant Casey ever really as bad, good, ridiculous, dangerous, or sensitive as people say he was? Could anyone who takes on instant notoriety through spectacular destruction ever be viewed as a normal human again, or will he instantly transform into an exaggerated figure that all fears and dreams and anxiety and hope are pinned upon?
The confusing narrative is intentional because of this context. The first part of the novel is Rant’s simple country life, where he pushes boundaries and presents a slightly bigger threat than Tom Sawyer convincing the school kids to whitewash the fence for him. His game is getting bit by venomous animals to get out of gym and cause an erection. But no one really thought he could intentionally harm anyone until long after he left the small town, even if a few too many people had bad run-ins with the Casey kid.
Then you jump to Part Two, which requires a whole lot more exposition. There’s an unspecified time and/or cultural jump that pushes the story into an ambiguous future where everyone has a media-reading port attached to the base of their neck for the consumption of any and all entertainment. There’s also a societal divide between night and day, with equal access to all shops and government-funded facilities at night. The people party crashing are rebelling against a society literally trapped in the minds of its members. Rant gets caught up with that group and takes on a far more sinister persona as a master of party crashing and so much more.
Palahniuk varies the voices of the interview subjects just enough to keep the confusion at a perfectly calculated level. The traffic reports are always going to end with the same sign-off. Echo Lawrence is always going to talk nicer about Rant than anyone else. Green Taylor Simms is always going to paint Rant in the worst possible light. The historians are going to use thick clinical terms at the start and end of every section to define the mode of the story and the simple country neighbors from Part One are always going to focus on gossip and rumors in plain speech.
The form of Rant is confusing enough on its own. I read the novel on my Nook and, I kid you not, checked many times when starting Part Two to make sure I didn’t accidentally switch books. There is no connection between the first two parts until Rant shows up some 30 pages in. You’re dropped into this alternate future with a ton of unfamiliar technology and societal functions that need to be defined before Rant can show up and maybe–possibly (allegedly)– cause chaos. The transition into Part Three isn’t any easier, but you’ll become so adjusted to the random jumps in time and perspective that a third separate narrative can’t cause anymore harm.
Rant is not an easy read, but it is an engaging one. It’s a novel of the evolution of idea and perspective. It pulls inspiration from early sci-fi authors like Edward Bellamy, establishing a recognizable present before showcasing a could-be future full of new ideas and social constructs that seems believable and unimaginable in equal measure. It’s about the influence of media on the creation of history and the moment where one rather unremarkable person can suddenly be blamed or credited with revolutionizing the world.